Johnny Majors, former Tennessee and Pitt coach, dies at 85

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FILE - In this April 14, 2018, file photo, Blue team coach Johnny Majors, a former Pittsburgh NCAA college football coach, is shown before the annual Blue Gold game in Pittsburgh. Majors, the coach of Pittsburghs 1976 national championship team and a former coach and star player at Tennessee, has died. He was 85. Majors died Wednesday morning, June 3, 2020, at home in Knoxville, Tenn., according to a statement from his wife, Mary Lynn Majors.(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – College Football Hall of Famer Johnny Majors, the coach of Pittsburgh’s 1976 national championship team and a former coach and star player at Tennessee, died Wednesday. He was 85.

Majors died at his home in Knoxville, according to his wife, Mary Lynn Majors. “He spent his last hours doing something he dearly loved: looking out over his cherished Tennessee River,” she said in a statement first given to Sports Radio WNML.

Majors compiled a 185-137-10 record in 29 seasons as a head coach at Iowa State (1968-72), Pitt (1973-76, 1993-96) and Tennessee (1977-92). That followed a standout playing career at Tennessee during which he finished second to Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung in the 1956 Heisman Trophy balloting.

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987. Tennessee retired Majors’ No. 45 jersey in 2012.

“Dynamic on the field. Fierce on the sidelines. Distinguished Tennessean,” Tennessee's football program tweeted. “We mourn the loss of legendary player and coach Johnny Majors — a man who left an indelible mark on Tennessee Football.”

Majors starred for the Volunteers from 1954-56 as a single-wing tailback and punter and twice was named the Southeastern Conference player of the year. He went on to a successful coaching career and had his greatest year in 1976, when he led Pittsburgh to a national championship with a team featuring Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett.

“He was more than just an integral part of my college football career; he was a dear friend who continued his relationship with me far beyond my playing days,” Dorsett said in a statement. "He took a young high school kid and showed him how to be a leader and a man. My prayers are with his family, the Pitt community and all the players and coaches who have been a part of his life. Rest in heaven, Coach.”

During the 1956 season, Majors rushed for seven touchdowns, threw five TD passes and punted and returned kicks while leading Tennessee to a 10-1 record and Sugar Bowl appearance. He finished his Vols playing career with 1,622 yards rushing and 1,135 yards passing.